Kenya a dumping ground for unwanted ‘fast fashion’ clothing – study

By our News Team | 2023

NGOs say bundled clothes arriving in the country from EU are often so poor they are unusable and create pollution. But some disagree.

Up to a third of all clothes being exported from European Union countries to Kenya for re-use are of such poor quality that they are being dumped or burned immediately.

There are now increasing calls for clothing to be made ‘sustainable by design’ – rather than brands opting for so-called ‘fast fashion’ – and for EU regulators to make such product-dumping practices illegal.

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Opening a bale of used clothing at Kawangare market in Nairobi. Photo credit: Clean Up Kenya/Changing Markets Foundation

The investigation, allegedly showing the worryingly high volume of items being burned or dumped on arrival in Kenya, was conducted by NGO’s Clean Up Kenya and Wildlight on behalf of the Changing Markets Foundation, whose mission is to expose irresponsible corporate practices and drive change to create a more sustainable global economy.

“We went to the ground zero of the fast-fashion world to unmask an ugly truth – that the trade of used clothing from Europe is, to a large and growing extent, a trade in hidden waste,” says Betterman Simidi Musasia, Founder and Patron of Clean Up Kenya, which advocates for sustainable public sanitation.

“Countries like Kenya are fast fashion’s escape valve. Traders buy bundled clothing blind and understandably dump the growing percentage that turn out to be useless,” Musasia explains.

“In truth, our addiction to fast fashion is saddling poorer countries like Kenya with polluted soil, air and water.”

The report called for it to be made illegal for the EU to dump the 112-million items of clothing it currently sends to Kenya each year. It said brands should be obliged to pay for their waste and clothing must be made sustainable by design.

It added that 69% of textiles are now made of plastic, such as nylon and polyester, and therefore should come under the regulations.

Kenya’s ‘mitumba’ industry begs to differ

But not everyone agrees on the scale of the problem. A report published in Euronews says some used-clothing sellers believe the report paints a “wildly inaccurate” picture of the mitumba trade in Kenya.

Mitumba is a local term for plastic-wrapped packages of used clothing arriving from wealthier countries.

“This European report assumes that mitumba traders in Kenya spend their money importing 50 percent waste,” said Teresia Wairimu, Chair of the Mitumba Consortium Association of Kenya.

She added that mitumba traders aren’t “fools” who are spending lots of money importing waste, just to dump it into landfills; but are “proud businesspeople” buying good quality clothes that can be sold and re-used in Kenya. 

“At least two million Kenyans are directly employed by the mitumba industry, with over 20-million people totally reliant on it for their clothes. Half the population’s households buy second-hand clothes each year,” Wairimu added.

“This report is demeaning and an insult to all who work in the second-hand clothes trade across the continent, and by spreading misinformation it further threatens millions of livelihoods.”

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    Dr Kin Kariisa

    Group CEO - Next Media

    Dr. Kin Kariisa is an extraordinary force at the helm of Next Media Services, a conglomerate encompassing NBS TV, Nile Post, Sanyuka TV, Next Radio, Salam TV, Next Communication, Next Productions, and an array of other influential enterprises. His dynamic role as Chief Executive Officer exemplifies his unwavering commitment to shaping media, business, and community landscapes.
    With an esteemed academic journey, Dr. Kariisa’s accolades include an Honorary PhD in exemplary community service from the United Graduate College inTexas, an MBA from United States International University in Nairobi, Kenya, a Master’s degree in Computer Engineering from Huazong University in China, and a Bachelor’s degree in Statistics from Makerere University.
    Dr. Kariisa pursued PhD research in Computer Security and Identity Management at Security of Systems Group, Radboud University in Nijmegen, Netherlands. As a dynamic educator, he has shared his expertise as a lecturer of e-Government and Information Security at both Makerere University and Radboud University.

    Dr Kin did his PhD research in Computer Security and Identity Management at Security of Systems Group, Radbond University in Nigmegen, Netherlands. He previously served as a lecturer of e-Government and Information Security at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda and Radbond University in Netherlands.

    Dr Kin did his postgraduate courses in Strategic Business Management, Strategic Leadership Communication and Strategies for Leading Successful Change Initiatives at Harvard University, Boston USA.

    • Other current and previous roles played by Dr Kin Kariisa:
    • Lecturer of e-Government and Information Security to graduate students at Makerere University, Kampala and Radbond University in the Netherlands
    • Director of Eco Bank Uganda Limited, one of the largest banks in Africa
    • Chairman of the National Association of Broadcasters, an umbrella industry association for all Television, Radio and online broadcasters in Uganda.
    • Chairman of Board of Directors of Nile Hotel International, that owns the leading hotel in Uganda, Kampala Serena Hotel.
    • Chairman of Board of Directors of Soliton Telmec Uganda, the leading telecom company in Optic fibre business managing over 80% of optic fibre in Uganda.